Do as I Say, Not as I Do…

Why is innovation critical? The other day, General Motors announced that it will be laying off 1,100 workers in the Lansing area. Their plant that currently produces the GMC Acadia is cutting its third shift, and all of those jobs are going to Tennessee. This is the fourth layoff they’ve announced since November 2016. Here in Lansing, we have also endured Oldsmobile – a company born and bred in the Capital City – closing its plant and ceasing to exist as a product. Michigan’s auto industry and its struggles shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who lived through the Great Recession. And while in many ways GM and Chrysler are doing much better, it’s easy to look around and see the effects of the Great Recession on the local economy. Across the board, more and more jobs are being lost to automation and advances in technology – not to “bad trade deals” as a certain leader has alluded to…

Listening to the YouTube Live this week, a couple of things stuck out to me:

“The jobs that can be automated eventually will be. That’s why we need innovators.” – George Couros

I couldn’t agree more. There is vast opportunity for new jobs, to solve complex problems, to fill an existing need, and to generate a lot of money for local, state, and national economies. Obviously on a micro level, a new job that fills a need could be very lucrative for someone, on a macro level, in order to stay relevant we must change and innovate. And yet…we are still working on outdated machines and within models that were designed to solve 20th century needs. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.

A place where I see this dichotomy is in education – in professional learning specifically. George referenced that a lot of the problems in education aren’t from the teachers themselves, but from their leadership. I (mostly) agree with this. We ask a LOT of teachers – collect an inane amount of data, differentiate, be innovative, integrate technology to a high level, reinforce social skills, teach curriculum, support all learners all of the time in culturally-relevant ways, etc. While all of these things (aside from the overwhelming data collection…) are essential to supporting students and helping them learn and grow, it can be really hard to do, especially when you’re being asked to do things you’ve never done before. Having leadership that models and brainstorms with you ways to be more innovative and feel like you have permission to try new things.

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We had a PD day not long ago on implementing our new math curriculum. Rather than giving people time to share ways they have used the different components in their classes, the PD was focused on the “nuts and bolts” and reviewing (for the umpteenth time!) the online resources available. While that is helpful for some people, other teachers benefit from hearing how their colleagues are changing their teaching strategies.

Another example I see time and time again is asking teachers for feedback – on a paper survey – and only at the end of a session. While feedback is an incredibly powerful tool, it needs to be done throughout the process, and there are ways we can utilize technology to make it more efficient.

I loved Sarah’s thoughts around good leaders providing support and space for their teachers. It’s kind of reminiscent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – we need to feel cared for and loved before we can do anything else. Teachers need to know that their leaders have their backs and they have the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths and fly. When I was still in the classroom, I was never afraid of trying a new technology out with my students because I knew that they would figure it out – and teach me something new in the process. Teaching 8th grade students about the Constitutional Convention (prior to the Hamilton craze) could be somewhat challenging to make it meaningful and relevant for them. So I worked on ways to create innovative learning experiences. We made videos that parodied reality shows – Real Housewives of Colonial America for example. Students had to really KNOW that material in order to create a coherent and accurate video. But, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that if I didn’t have a principal who understood that my ability to connect with students on their level was a strength and I needed the space to be able to do that.

How do we move more leaders and teachers in this direction? I truly believe a culture shift in how we define professional learning opportunities is crucial. Teachers willingly give up their weeknights and Saturdays to engage in Twitter chats or attend EdCamps because they have control over the type of learning they experience. These types of learning opportunities also provide teachers the time they so desperately need to really think through challenges, create innovative projects and lessons, to collaborate, and to connect. Additionally, there needs to be an expectation – and accountability – that the provided time is really being used for that purpose. While there is value in spending 5-10 minutes “venting” about the problems, it’s not the most productive use of your 60 minute PLC time – EVERY week. Or half listening while grading papers and responding to email while your colleagues are speaking – it’s rude and unprofessional. I get it; I taught middle school for 4 years, often had 180 English essays to grade, etc. But at the same time, we would not accept that behavior from our students, so why do we think it’s okay for us to do that? Teachers and administrators need to change the culture of professional learning – space and support – but also accountability and professionalism.

What say you? How can we create more innovative learning experiences for teachers and administrators?

#IMMOOC – Season Two

Last night some pretty smart people kicked off another round of the #IMMOOC – The Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course focused around the book – The Innovator’s Mindset. I participated last year, but when I heard there was going to be another round of the IMMOOC, I was thrilled. It’s always fun to connect with new people and challenge your own thoughts and ideas.

One of the questions from this week is centered around the idea of the purpose of school. What is it we are actually trying to do with our students? For me, as a former social studies teacher and current technology integration specialist, the purpose of education is to teach students how to engage with the world around them. They obviously need content knowledge to contextualize their ideas, but we really need to support our students in analyzing information, formulating their own opinions, creating new and innovative things to change our world and their experiences with it, and to find creative ways to solve problems.

I always get push back from teachers whenever I bring up the idea of innovation and design thinking. It can be really hard to find the time, but, like most things in life, you make time for the things that are important to you. In the YouTube Live Episode 1, John Spencer said something that stuck out to me: “Curriculum maps are just that – maps. Maps should inspire possibilities.” Too many times teachers get stuck in marching through the curriculum, stuck on one path and not veering off from it or incorporating other standards and curriculum into what they’re teaching.

My favorite part of the episode? When George discussed some pushback he got from a teacher – “Innovation isn’t in the curriculum.” His response: “Yeah, well neither are worksheets.” Right!?! I mean…we do things we KNOW are bad for kids because it’s what we know, it’s what we’re comfortable with, it’s “easy.” This isn’t to say that there aren’t teachers out there who aren’t doing innovative things or out-of-the-box thinking. A challenge I see a lot is that the environment in which a lot of our teachers are currently operating in isn’t always conducive to innovation. It can be hard to take a risk when you feel like your administrator doesn’t have your back.

So how do we get more innovation in our schools given the current climate? I think it’s crucial to talk to kids since they’re the ones we’re in this business for! Kids can solve some pretty interesting problems if we give them the chance! When we do what’s best for kids, we begin to push kids to take ownership of their learning and to show what they know in new and innovative ways.

Podcasting

If you’re like me, podcasts have completely taken over your listening preferences. I listen to pods while I’m getting ready for work, running, driving to work (which reminds me, I really need to cancel that XM subscription…), cleaning the house, etc. They are awesome and FREE, which is even better.

This year I decided to challenge myself and get a little bit outside of my comfort zone. I started a podcast! Wha!? It’s pretty sweet, and for the 3 people who subscribe, I hope you’re enjoying the content! Fun fact, there’s more to it than just recording yourself. The hardest part was going through the process of how you share the podcast once you have it created.

Thanks to my PLN, Twitter, and Google, I decided on Shout Engine as the host for the podcast. Once you have a place to host it, you also then need to use the RSS feed to submit to iTunes. It’s a bit of a process. But, now that I have the workflow down, it’s pretty neat. I’m co-hosting the podcast with my coworker Eric Spicer, who is a Technology Integration Specialist at Averill, one of the schools in our district. The two of us try to have a digestible how-to video or technique to implement and we also end the podcast with a short tech tip. Our goal is to eventually get teachers using podcasts in their classrooms – as learning supplements and eventually as ways for students to showcase their work.

You can check out our podcast on iTunes or on Shout Engine. Let us know what you think!

What podcasts do you listen to?
How do you use podcasts in your classroom/professional sphere?

Training Challenges

I’m so excited to be kicking off 2017 with some new training offerings for teachers. It also means I get to play around on Canva and create some awesome flyers. I’m seriously obsessed with that site; it’s so addictive!

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I’m continuing to work on getting more schools within our district using G-Suite to a higher level. It is a challenge to balance these offerings with other, non-Google trainings, since not every school in the district is a Google school (yet). That may be another blog post for another time…Consistency, people!

Here’s what I’m struggling with, and my situation may be unique to my particular district, but perhaps some of the challenges will resonate with you.

  1. The teachers in this district have vastly different technology skill levels and desires to learn more technology. For example, I worked with a teacher today who did not know how to attach a Word document to an email. I have had other teachers wanting me to show them ways to get their students podcasting. We’re all over the map here. How can you offer a training that is inclusive, meets the needs of the attendees, and is high quality? I know this is a challenge teachers struggle with in their classrooms, too.
  2. There is no time. Literally, there is no time. The teachers do not have a planning period. After school is often filled with clubs, meetings, interventions, etc. Often I am sitting with a teacher trying to plan, while he or she is managing a classroom. It’s certainly not ideal, and really not even functional. There must be other schools out there that have some time challenges. How do you address them?
  3. Unpreparedness. Now, this is not a knock on teachers personally. I used to be in the classroom, and I get it – you make hundreds of decisions every single hour. How can you be expected to remember usernames and passwords, too?! Right. Everything requires a username and password these days, so finding a system that works is crucial. (And by that I don’t mean a list of passwords taped to your desk next to your computer…) I continue to provide a “You will need _____” list with my training offerings so that teachers know. And yet…I still struggle with teachers being able to access their accounts or bring their devices to a technology training.

A  lot of this is cultural change and shifts in expectation. For a lot of teachers, they are used to low-quality, sit and get PD, presented by someone who doesn’t know them and isn’t invested in their role in the District. So many companies include PD when you purchase their products, but it is often a one-and-done kind of thing, and teachers have been conditioned to know that these types of trainings are not very engaging and often not all that useful. I continue to keep high standards for my teachers. While I cannot provide one-on-one support for all teachers in all 27 schools, I am doing my best to provide a comprehensive set of training sessions as well as continue to work on building relationships. Capacity building is huge, so I have worked to identify teachers who are tech leaders in their buildings and tap into their willingness to try new things.

How do you handle some of these challenges? 
Any suggestions you’d like to share? 

Sharing Stories

Last week I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite people and her awesome students. She’s a reading specialist here in Lansing and last year I introduced her to the Global Read Aloud last year and she read Fish in a Tree with her students. This year, her kiddos are reading Pax, and, like me, they have all fallen in love with the story of a young boy and his pet fox.

One of the things we love about the GRA is that it allows students to make connections over a common story with people from all over the world. It’s so validating for students to be able to hear people commenting on their ideas and opinions, asking them questions, and making connections.

On Thursday, the students and I used the iPad app Shadow Puppet to create short videos about their favorite character in the book. Prior to my lesson with the students, Mrs. Jacobs had the kids draw a picture of a scene from the book that included their favorite character. They also had a script of what they wanted to say, since some students freeze up when they have to record themselves! After a quick lesson on how to use Shadow Puppet, the kids were off to the races. It was awesome to listen to their explanations about why they chose a particular character.

After everyone recorded their videos, we uploaded them to YouTube. Then I got to sit with the students and Mrs. Jacobs and talk about what they had read so far. I have read the whole book, so the students were anxious to pick my brain about what happens in the book. It was fun to hear their questions and to not really answer any of them, because no one REALLY wants to know how it ends before you get to it!

We are a bit behind the official reading schedule for the Global Read Aloud, but we are really enjoying the deep dive and discussing the book. We’d love to connect with you over Google Hangouts or Skype. Let me know!

 

Global Read Aloud

Okay so I have used Twitter a lot for professional connection and learning for the past few years. And I know its power. But I’ve never really witnessed firsthand how powerful it can be! I’ve tweeted out a question and gotten a few responses. I’ve never really had an overwhelming amount of responses to something – until yesterday.

I created a Padlet (basically an interactive corkboard) about the first 5 chapters of a book called Pax. Pax is one of the books chosen for this year’s Global Read Aloud, a collaborative project designed to engage students with reading. I tweeted out the link to the Padlet, inviting people to collaborate on it. In less than 24 hours, I’ve had more than 63 students view and add to my Padlet from all over the WORLD! That’s amazing! Not to mention that it’s incredibly fun (for lack of a better term) to have people comment on your stuff. I get so excited when I have a comment on my blog to moderate; it validates me so much more than just writing for myself. While I get pleasure in sharing my words just to share and get my thoughts out, I’m much more nuanced and thoughtful when writing a blog because of the potential for other people to read it.

This is my second year participating in the Global Read Aloud, and it is such an amazing and inspiring project. I don’t know how Pernille Ripp does it, but she chooses books that are beautiful, engaging, and resonates so much with a variety of students. Last year, we read Fish in a Tree to our 4-6 Reading Class. This is a group of students who are used to feeling the like the “dumb” kids because they struggle with reading. It was such a powerful experience to see them EXCITED about reading and giving them a voice to share how they were connecting with the book.

This year, Pax is also really impacting our students. Working in an urban district, students come to us with a lot of deficits, many with unstable home lives. Peter (one of the main characters) is relatable to them in a lot of ways because he too struggles with belonging, betrayal, and all the challenges of growing up. Pax is also relatable, even though he’s a fox, because he struggles with finding his way and who he is. I cannot wait to get deeper into this book with my students.

Are you participating in the GRA? We’d love to connect with you via Skype or Google Hangout! 

 

#IMMOOC Week One – Opportunities

So, I’m super excited to be participating in this awesome MOOC with lots of amazing and brilliant folks on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. One of the biggest challenges for me in my role as an Instructional Technologist is letting go of some of my own ideas about what technology integration SHOULD look like, and being more open to hearing other teachers sharing what their visions are. While many of the teachers I work with are eager to utilize technology in more meaningful ways, they aren’t sure how to make that happen. At the core of any real systematic change is the ability to listen to and understand one another. Sometimes in the busyness of the day, teachers and I aren’t always speaking the same language.

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Photo courtesy of George Couros: gcouros.ca

One of the prompts for this week is: “‘Change is an opportunity to do something amazing’ How are you embracing change to spur innovation?”

So one of my big goals for this MOOC is to change the way I “do business” to generate some innovative ideas. Spend more time listening and asking questions (of both teachers AND students) and less time talking and trying to provide solutions. I feel stretched in a billion different directions and, when I walk out of a teacher’s classroom, I want to feel like I have helped him or her, so I often feel pressure to give him or her a quick answer or a solution. Rather, I want to embrace the opportunity to do something amazing by CHANGING the way I communicate. Asking questions and really thinking deeply will help me to provide more meaningful supports for the teachers I am working with.

It’s a Big Job…

The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping a bit, the sun is coming up a tad later every morning, pens and notebooks are on super sale in the store. Summer is winding down and it’s about time for school to start again. While people are always somewhat reluctant to head back to work after a vacation, most teachers I know are ready to get back in their classrooms after a couple of months away. They miss the energy of a new school year, their students, the creativity and collaboration of lesson planning and learning from students.

This year, I am also getting excited as I am transitioning into a new role. For the past two years I have supported the Magnet Program in Lansing. These five schools focused on STEM, STEAM, and Global Studies/Spanish Immersion. Through that role, I built relationships with some wonderful people and helped to share the power of technology in creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for students. Now, as that program is winding down, I have moved into a new role where I am supporting the entire district’s technology integration efforts.

While it is a big job – one of me and 27 schools – I am excited for the opportunity to continue to push students and teachers to do new and innovative things with the assistance of technology. But, it is going to be a challenge to support so many people with only so many hours in the day. This year I am trying something new – a booking tool that syncs with my Google calendar. Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of the back and forth emailing that sometimes happens when people want to set something up. I anticipate there being a bit of a learning curve as the most common way to connect with someone is to send them an email. I am hopeful, though, that after a couple gentle reminders, most people will look to the booking site first rather than email.

I put together a little flyer to showcase who I am, what my role is, what I can do, and how to reach me. This will be posted on our Technology Integration website as well as shared with the people in Central Office and all the building principals. In a district our size, it’s impossible to know everyone, so this was the best way I could think of to get my name out there. Let me know what you think!

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School Year Goals

One of the best parts of working in the education field is the opportunity to start fresh each school year. Similar to how lots of people set New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this school year are.

Rather than come up with a list of three or four “things” I want to implement in schools or projects to complete, I have decided to focus instead on something that is both small and large. Last year, I heard George Couros speak at ISTE, and one of things he said really stuck out to me: “What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day they did in their classroom […] and took five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets? What impact would that have on school culture?” You can read more about Building Culture from George here. 

Today’s educational environment – in Michigan especially – is challenging and demoralizing. Threatened with closure, almost 100 schools throughout the state are waiting to learn their fate. The state’s largest public school district (Detroit Public Schools) have students and teachers in buildings with mold growing on the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a mess, and it can be really hard to stay positive and work throughout the school year to continually try to innovate and come up with ways to engage students. It is challenging when you’re in the thick of it, to remember all those little moments that get buried in the daily minutiae of teaching.

So, this year, my goal is to tweet out one thing each day that I did or saw in my classroom observation. As the Technology Integrationist for the entire district – all 25 schools – I am sure I will have a lot of things to share! I’m going to share to the hashtag #LansingComeUp. As part of the mission to bring positivity and hope to this area, students brainstormed this hashtag as a way to show people that great things are happening in our schools and we are coming up. I invite you to join me; let’s make this year the best one yet!

How Do You Get That Lonely?

My blog title comes from a heartbreaking song called “How Do You Get That Lonely” by country singer Blaine Larson. The song tells the story of a young man who committed suicide. He asks over and over, “How do you get that lonely and no body knows?” This song lyric has been echoing in my head for the last couple of weeks as I heard about the death of one of my former students. His name was Alec and he was 17 years old. 

Alec was a bright, sweet, caring, and thoughtful young man when I had him as a 7th grade student. He was one of the 140 students I taught my first year of teaching. That group of kids will always have a special place in my heart. I’m certain those students taught me more my first year of teaching than I taught them. I learned patience, how to see the potential and good in each student, how to forge relationships with them, learn about their interest, how to engage students in different ways, how to challenge them. I also learned what exhaustion felt like and how hard it was to give your all – day in and day out – and still feel like it was never enough.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking about Alec’s death is that it happened in the midst of so much happiness in the school year. Students are graduating, making plans for college or a career, reflecting on their high school years. There is so much hope and optimism; a sense of the entire world at their feet. Tinged with all these celebratory moments is a profound sense of loss.

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Alec was a much different person as a high school student than he was when I had him as a 7th grader. He grew up – figuratively and literally. Reading through the posts from his classmates and family, it is clear that at his core, Alec was the same bright, caring, kind, and thoughtful young man. My heart breaks for his family.